Class Action and Product Insights for Your Business
June 17, 2024 - Class Action, Consumer Products, False Advertising, Food Misbranding

Health Halo Trend Continues With poppi "Gut Healthy" Sodas

High Court Orders Rethink Of $9.7M Award After TransUnion

Are Prebiotic Drinks Plaintiffs’ Bar’s Next Target?

Late last month, San Francisco resident Kirstin Cobbs initiated a class action lawsuit against poppi after purchasing its product, poppi prebiotic soda, believing the product to be “gut healthy.” Poppi sodas are packaged in cans with label designs making noteworthy statements such as the product is “for a healthy gut.” Additionally, the front of the packaging depicted in the complaint displays the slogan “Be Gut Happy. Be Gut Healthy.”

The suit was filed in the Northern District of California under California’s False Advertising Law (FAL), California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA), California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), and unjust enrichment. The complaint alleges that the product is not “gut healthy” because consuming the soda in the amount normally ingested will not create meaningful prebiotic effects. Plaintiff concludes that if she had been aware of this, she would not have purchased the product. Cobbs alleges that by promoting poppi soda as a gut-friendly, prebiotic beverage, poppi is misleading consumers because “a consumer would need to drink more than four Poppi sodas in a day to realize any potential health benefits from its prebiotic fiber.” But poppi is likely targeted because it has “quickly climbed the ranks as one of the most popular beverages in the United States” since consumers are interested in alternatives to traditional sodas.

Health Halo Litigation Continues with New Trends

Poppi prebiotic sodas are marketed as an alternative to traditional sodas, emphasizing the importance of gut health and prebiotic ingredients. Prebiotics support probiotics, which aid the immune system and digestion. A poppi soda contains two grams of dietary fiber, which appears to come from inulin. Sources suggest that inulin may stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.

There is an increasing uptick in lawsuits challenging claims that may imply health benefits to consumers. The complaint alleges that consumers search for healthier alternatives to soda, so it is not surprising that companies are trying to appeal to health-conscious consumers. It is similarly not surprising that the plaintiffs’ bar targets emerging trends, beginning with successful, popular products.

These lawsuits have targeted products using terms such as “healthy,” “healthier,” “wholesome,” and “good for you.” The suits have faced mixed results, with some defeating false advertising challenges and others proceeding further into litigation. As we have written about previously, in 2023, FDA redefined its definition of “healthy.” Moreover, these recent lawsuits target terms which are not defined by FDA regulations. While FDA has regulated “healthy,” it does not regulate terms that may imply health benefits. Specifically, here, FDA has not defined “prebiotic,” nor does it regulate “good for your gut,” “gut healthy,” or “gut happy.”

Key Takeaways

Like other food labeling false advertising cases, we expect early arguments over whether these terms are puffery and whether a reasonable consumer would be deceived by a term such as “gut healthy” to mean that they are receiving some nutritional benefit. If this case proceeds past the pleadings stage, we expect that the case may turn on whether the ingredients provide the gut health benefits that consumers expect to receive. Additionally, there may be a battle of the experts over whether two grams of inulin can provide health benefits.

We will be tracking this litigation and we write this as an important reminder that companies should be sure to review all labeling on food and beverage products and consult with counsel as necessary to stay on top of current changes in litigation trends.

Shannon Labuschagne, a Summer Associate in Morrison Foerster's San Francisco office, contributed to this blog post.